Damien Jurado + Nick Thune @ L’Astral – 24 January 2020

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Damien Jurado + Nick Thune @ L’Astral

Charlie Chaplin said, “Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long-shot.” That viewpoint seems a good point of reference tonight at L’Astral as the seemingly odd pairing of singer-songwriter Damien Jurado and comedian/actor/musician Nick Thune bring their Sad Songs, Sad Comedy tour to Montreal.

The two artists met at a special memorial service for their mutual friend and producer, the late Richard Swift. Both Seattle natives, they bonded further and decided they’d like to collaborate and put on a series of shows at Largo in Los Angeles last year. Those went well so they decided to take the show on the road.

Thune, who’ll appear in the romantic comedy series Love Life alongside Anna Kendrick, also recently shot the ABC drama pilot Heart of Life, inspired by the John Mayer song of the same name. He’s also released two hour-long standup specials on Netflix — Nick Thune: Good Guy and Nick Thune: Folk Hero.

Jurado has been making albums since the late ’90s and last year released his 14th studio album, In the Shape of a Storm. On the release, the singer-songwriter strips down to spare acoustic guitar, lingering on the moments when the buzzing world around all but fades away.

When I first heard about tonight’s show I wasn’t aware of Nick Thune and assumed he was the opening act for Jurado, whom I’d been a fan of for years. As the evening unfolded, however, it became apparent that this was more of a co-headline event, with Jurado playing first.

He was introduced by his friend Thune who jokingly warned us that other shows have seen people crying uncontrollably because of the sadness of the songs. Jurado took his seat shortly after 8pm and grabbed his acoustic guitar, joking that he hopes one day to have a roadie to hand him his guitar like he’s witnessed at so many shows he’s attended.

Throughout his set, the singer delivers intimately confessional songs, some, like The Last Great Washington State, fading to a whisper. His connection with the lyrics is more than apparent on his face. “It gets heavy for me,” he admits. “And I write this shit!”

A new song, Fool Maria, is debuted and is again gentle with dark undertones as he sings “quiet as an airplane before it hits the mountain”. Those in attendance, seated at their tables dotted around the venue look on mesmerised by the intimacy of the performance. The room is so quiet, I have to whisper my order at the bar!

“I don’t write many upbeat songs, so I’ll play you a song my cat likes,” he says, recounting how his cat will come and lay by his feet whenever he plays the song at home, before immediately leaving when it’s done.

For me, the closing song from 2016’s Visions of Us on the Land album, Kola, is a particular standout. But every one of his songs reels the listener in and leaves you feeling privileged to have been in the room with such a talented artist.

The mood shifts dramatically as Nick Thune arrives on stage to continue the show without interval. delivering his comedic anecdotes over a gentle strum of his guitar. “Can you make the lights… exactly as they are?” he instructs the lighting technician.

This is now a comedy show, albeit with some guitar thrown in, as Thune tells us stories of helping one-armed ladies at the airport or being trapped in the ladies’ bathroom while the girl in the cubicle “poops like nobody’s listening”.

There are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments but a few of the stories simply fizzle out before he switches topic. The show has more of a “telling tales in the bar” feel than your typical stand-up but that certainly helps the crowd connect with him easier. I do get the feeling that many have come to hear Damien Jurado play and this comedy show is an odd interruption to their evening.

For the final fifteen minutes or so, Jurado is welcomed back on stage, now wearing a Korn t-shirt gifted to him, he says, by Thune. The friends talk about that meeting at Richard Swift’s memorial before playing a cover of his song, The Bully.

For this part of the show, Jurado is happy to let the laughs continue and seems more relaxed as he plays Motorbike, an old song about a guy who rides on the interstate before being killed by a truck. The singer can’t help giggling as he sings the words.

Comedy is tragedy plus time, someone once said.

Review & photos – Steve Gerrard

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